How is it going?

What follows are some thoughts after the first few months of Office Hours.

Office Hours is a weekly peer-to-peer session in which business people present a challenge they are facing to other business people who then question the presenter and provide feedback. This is all in a very structured way so that conversation stays focused on the key issues and results in a commitment by the presenter for action. We follow up with the presenter some months later to see how it all went in actual practice. It all takes about 60 min with time for intros and general questions at the start and finish.

Office Hours @cammakespace Fridays at noon since November 2019, ten sessions at this writing. It has on average 12-15 people attending. Typically 2-3 and up to 5 of those are associated with the University of Cambridge. The attendees range in age from late 50’s to early 20’s with backgrounds as FTSE 350 COOs, ‘exited’ entrepreneurs, to managers running teams of 100’s with budgets of £100M and independents wondering if they should start a company at all. Most are in companies of a few people to 10’s of people. We have people join in via skype from Germany, China, London, Scotland and Yorkshire, not just Cambridge. The sectors represented are IT, optics/nanotech, aerospace, transport high volume manufacturing, educational, social ventures and others.

Question presented to the Office Hours group have been varied but not surprising:

  • How to get more sales calls for my new product ?
  • I know the market size and segmentation, but how do I actually price my new product?
  • I know the market size and segmentation, but how do I actually price my new product?
  • How to position a contract-CTO offering to win more contracts?
  • Should I form a Ltd to forward a games development company?
  • I have too much to do, how to staff a company?
  • How to make better hiring decisions?
  • Where, in what market, is best to launch a social venture product?
  • Should I file a patent to protect new IP ?
  • Partnership/JV with a major sub contractor, should I and if so how much equity do I give?
  • The sector we chose for our product launch proving slow and expensive, should/how do we change the strategic direction of company?

The majority of the time the questions as presented are not the ones that get answered, at lest not directly. Rather, in the questions and discovery phase the real issue that should be asked emerges.

For example one challenge presented was: “I have too much to do, how to staff a company ?” The group from the outset dismissed the premise going directly to determining the actual value proposition being forwarded by the company; had the presenter defined the value proposition, and critically, did he have a plan for delivering it? In the feedback portion of the hour the strong recommendation from the room was to examine assumptions underlying the business and its value proposition to the, as yet undefined, market sector to arrive at a defined and documented plan. The staffing requirements question will, or should, have an answer in that. We will check back in a few months to see how he got on. My suspicion is that he will need further help in the details of planning and defining tasks, but one step at a time.

The week prior was a challenge about making better hiring decisions. The presenter has fired every person he has ever hired. He had assumed his question was about how he vetted people. The Office Hours group quickly boiled it down to, in part, that he was not communicating well with the people he did hire. His employees may not have actually understood what he wanted them to accomplish. This was clear to the experienced people in the room who had both not communicated well themselves at times or not been communicated to effectively.

Everyone in the room has the chance to speak and also to observe. Much of the value is created in watching how the group unpicks a presenters story. The groups work best when there is both confidentiality and continuity in the group. Maintaining a group over many months or even years allows members to see questions in context and have the deep personal trust that is needed for a frank exchange.

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